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Chef Ferran Adrià Goes Foraging For Creativity In Kansas City

Excitement enveloped a small band of foodies on Sunday as they feasted their way through a tour of Kansas City’s unique food offerings. 

Julián Zugazagoitia, director of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, helped organize the private tour for Spanish master chef Ferran Adrià, whose notes and sketches are on display at the museum in an exhibition called Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity. The tour started at the J. Rieger & Co. distillery.

Adrià is best known for his work as head chef at elBulli, the Spanish restaurant widely considered the best restaurant in the world. He's been described as a deconstructivist who "turned foods into foams and pioneered a new era in gastronomic innovation," according to the New York Times.

An authentic look at Midwestern food

When Local Pig owner and chef Alex Pope — an Adrià enthusiast — heard the famous Spanish chef was coming to his restaurant, he decided to stay true to himself. 

"We are just going to do what we do. It’s really tasty. We’ve had years to perfect it," said Pope. "He doesn’t want to see his own work reflected back at him. He’s here to see what we do.”

Through a translator, Adrià asked Pope, “What is the best quality meat that you sell?”

“We have really, really good pork and you can’t get it anywhere else,” Pope said as he asked his staff to fetch a pork tenderloin for Adrià to taste.

Standing off to the side during the exchange, Chelsea Tedlock was busily taking photos with her phone.

“I can barely breathe right now because my heart is beating so fast,” Tedlock said. “I work part-time here at Local Pig and so when I found out that Ferran was coming I didn’t believe it at first. But now he’s here. This is a big deal for us.”

As the group sat down to lunch at Happy Gillis in Columbus Park, Adrià reflected on what he had experienced so far. 

“I’ve only been here a few hours, so it is really hard to judge a whole culinary scene. But you sort of see the trends that are emerging in terms of American food,” he said. “You see young people opening places that are tapping into all the currents here. It’s exciting to see.”

"Stay calm and do your food"

Back in the kitchen, Happy Gillis' owner Josh Eans was plating grits and red-eye gravy.

“It’s kind of surreal when you actually think about what’s happening and you know you have someone like that eating in your restaurant,” Eans said. “You almost have to act like it’s not actually happening, because if you think about what’s actually happening then you’ll probably start to freak out. So you just stay calm and do your food.”

Eans said his job was to present Adrià with an authentic Kansas City dining experience.

"We want him to experience Midwestern food,” said Eans. “So we just picked two items that we liked the best for a salad and an entree, and just cooked what we like.”

Sipping a Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, Adrià said he was impressed with the work of the young chefs he’d met.

“It’s a revolution being driven by passion,” Adrià said. “In the past you had maybe high-budget enterprises and restaurants. This is like young people starting out on a shoestring in a labor of love. It’s a grand revolution that we are seeing.”

“Ferran Adria: Notes on Creativity” continues through August 2 at TheNelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-751-1278. 

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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